Poplar River Bilateral Monitoring Committee

The Poplar River forms an international river basin between Saskatchewan and Montana. The Poplar River Task Force of the International Souris-Red Rivers Engineering Board was formed in April 1975 at the request of the United States, to consider equitable apportionment alternatives and formulas. This was primarily due to the construction of the Morrison Dam near Coronach, Saskatchewan (Cookson Reservoir impoundment) on the East Poplar River. The Dam was completed in September 1976 to provide cooling water for the 600-megawatt Coronach Power Generating Station. An apportionment formula was recommended to Canada and the United States in 1977.

In 1977, the governments of Canada and the United States referred the issue of water quality to the International Joint Commission (IJC). The IJC Water Quality Task Force completed its report in 1981. This report was the basis for establishing flow-weighted objectives for numerous water quality parameters. The International Air Pollution Advisory Board also provided advice to the IJC about air pollution potential from the generating station.

The Poplar River Bilateral Monitoring Committee was established on September 23, 1980, and is composed of government representatives from Canada and the United States, Montana, and Saskatchewan, as well as one public ex-officio member from both the United States and Canada. The Committee currently reports to the International Red River Board, under the IJC. The Committee's main responsibility is to oversee monitoring programs to evaluate the potential for transboundary impacts from the generating station and its operations. The Committee's mandate has been extended until 2007.

The Committee monitors for quantity and quality of both surface and ground water, as well as air quality in Canada and the United States, at or near the International Boundary. The program included a quarterly exchange of data and an annual review and report. In September 1991, the Committee agreed that the quarterly data exchange was no longer required and an annual report would suffice. The 1990 Annual Report to governments marked the tenth year of Committee involvement and includes a compilation of data for the period 1981-1990.

Environment Canada and the United States Geological Survey have been collecting monthly water quality samples since July 1975 to test for nutrients, major ions and metals. These agencies also participate in an annual quality control program with Saskatchewan Environment and SaskPower.

At its annual meeting held in Helena, Montana on June 17-18, 2003, the Bilateral Monitoring Committee decided to reduce the frequency of the long term water quality monitoring of the East Poplar River. The decision was based on assessment of the water quality data gathered since the early 1980’s which showed no significant trends. Beginning in 2004, monitoring will be reduced to specific conductance data obtained from the in-situ monitor at the international boundary and four samples to be collected just by the USGS. The Committee will watch for three “red flags” to determine if increased monitoring is warranted. The three “red flags” are: 1. changes in the operation of the power plant; 2. specific conductance values show an apparent increasing trend; and 3. increased development in the basin.

Since the beginning of 1982, the USGS has monitored specific conductance daily in the East Poplar River at the International Boundary, making it possible to derive boron and total dissolve solids concentrations using a linear regression relationship with specific conductance. The daily conductance data will now become the sole basis for future water quality analyses and reports starting in 2004 since no grab samples will be collected.

In 2004, Luscar Ltd., a company that provides coal to the Poplar Power Plant, submitted a project proposal to extend its current coal mining area. Luscar has been operating a surface strip mine in the Poplar River North Mine since 1994. Mining of the extension area would begin in 2008 with construction of powerline infrastructure, haul road, and the start of the overburden removal. In 2010, pit development would begin and be completed in 2027. Three open pits would be used to mine twelve sections of land. The Province of Saskatchewan has determined that this proposal meets their definition of a “development”, hence an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) level of assessment will be conducted. Environment Canada expects to provide comments on the EIS when it becomes available.

The water quality report for boron and TDS for the 2005 annual report was derived mainly from daily conductance data collected by the in-situ auto-sampler in the East Poplar River at the International Boundary. In addition, the USGS has collected four monthly boron and TDS grab-samples in 2005 which were also used in conjunction with the derived-data. No water quality objective exceedances were observed for the 2005 monitoring year.

Environment Canada has agreed to take the responsibility of maintaining the in-situ continuous water-quality monitor installed at the East Poplar Station at the International Boundary. The continuous water-quality monitor records daily conductance data which are used in the computation of TDS and boron values to monitor the state of water quality in the East Poplar. In the absence of water-quality samples, the Bilateral Committee has agreed to utilize the data collected by the continuous water-quality monitor for its surface-water-quality monitoring program. The USGS collects grab water-quality samples on a quarterly basis to supplement the daily conductance data collected by the continuous water-quality monitor.

The Poplar River Power Station completed its twenty-second full year of operation in 2005. The two 300-megawatt coal-fired units generated 4,345,960 gross megawatts (MW) of electricity. The average capacity factors for Units No. 1 and 2 were 81.5 percent and 80.7 percent, respectively. The capacity factors are based on the maximum generating rating of 305 MW/h for both Unit No.1 and Unit No. 2. Similar to other years, scheduled maintenance was completed in the spring and fall of 2005.

With regards to apportionment, which is based on IJC recommendations, the United States was entitled to an on-demand release of 617 dam3 (500 acre-feet) from Cookson Reservoir in 2005. A volume of 678 dam3 (550 acre-feet) was delivered to the United States between May 1 and May 31, 2005. In addition, daily flows in 2005 met or exceeded the minimum flow recommended by the IJC except for days (July 29; August 10, 23, 30, 31; September 4, 8, 13, 14) when daily flows fell below the recommended minimum due to temporary damming of the stream by upstream beaver activity.

The 2005 annual report summarizes current water-quality conditions and compares them to the guidelines for specific parameter values that were developed by the International Joint Commission under the 1977 Reference from Canada and the United States. After evaluation of the monitoring information for 2005, the Committee finds that the measured conditions meet the recommended objectives.

For further information contact:

Transboundary Waters Unit
Environment Canada
Rm. 300, Park Plaza
2365 Albert St.
Regina, Saskatchewan
S4P 4K1
ph: (306)780-6425
fax: (306)780-7614

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